By George Donovan
A desert crawls its way across the surface of an entire planet, drier and hotter than anything you’ve ever known. A mountain of a predator, a gargantuan worm, tunnels beneath the sand ready to emerge and devour entire spaceships in a single leap. There on the planet Arrakis, you are the world beyond dreams, the dreams of Dune, Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel that, before Star Wars, made legends of cosmic dynasties and resource wars in the struggle between houses for Arrakis’ spice Melange.
Just as generations of other readers have been enthralled by the iconic saga, Denis Villeneuve, from the moment he first laid eyes on the book’s cover, knew Dune would stay in his future. In his perfect age to see himself in 15 year old protagonist Paul Atreides, a passion grew within him with time, and after directing 5 different celebrated films from 2013 to 2017, one of the single greatest decades any filmmaker has ever had, the announcement of a new Dune movie helmed by Villeneuve would be the project of a lifetime.
With a two-movie deal at Warner Bros. splitting the novel in half, just like their own take on Stephen King’s It, and a track record for the ages behind Villeneuve’s back, the message was clear: this would do for the 2020’s what Peter Jackson and his takes on J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of The Rings trilogy did for the 2000’s. Beginning in December of 2020 with Dune’s first movie release, this series would raise the bar to incredible new heights and then perform giants, revolving over and around for years to come, sweeping box office charts and going bowling at Awards season. The time had come for a blockbuster revolution.
This narrative and other thoughts pulsed through my head across Fall 2019, culminating in a Thanksgiving night to remember. Reflecting on where the project was in between forkfuls of banana cream pie, it seemed as though its future could only get brighter with each new bout of information. Star-studded didn’t even begin to describe the cast laid out: Timothée Chalamet as Paul, a character whose parents would be played by Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson in their respective roles as Duke Leto Atreides and Lady Jessica, would be acting alongside Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin within his House Atreides, bonding with their characters, Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck, alongside dozens of major stars across the different houses in the story.
Just as exciting and flavorful as the ensemble cast would have to be the audience this movie was looking to find. Here’s one heck of a built in fanbase: not just those who have revered the Herbert Dune novels, but also more general audiences drawn in by the once-in-a-generation pairing of Timothée’s Paul with Zendaya, and her role as Chani of Arrakis’ Fremen tribe. Talk about a big draw; people everywhere would be just about fainting thinking of their outfits and dynamic together during the press tours and the interviews! But another hugs demographic this new movie would benefit from would be the fans Villeneuve had made from his most recent film, Blade Runner 2049 (a number of my friends and I found ourselves in this camp) . Thoughts were racing of how he would shoot the desert and the ways different scenes would lay out; 2049’s biting Baseline Test sequences would definitely lay down the groundwork for what to expect from the new take on the Gom Jabbar scene from the beginning of the book.
At this time, I was still imagining this cast through the legendary lens of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s shot at a Dune movie in the 70’s, and the madness of his own talents he had chosen. Though planning on letting his own son, Brontis, play Paul, things would get seriously wild from there on out, with Orson Welles taking on the role of Baron Harkonnen, and Salvador Dali signing on as “The Mad Emperor of the Universe”, with a plan to accrue $100,000 for each minute of screen time and declare himself the highest-paid actor ever. With Jean “Moebius” Giraud lending his famous visual style to every costume seen within the production, the horrors of H.R. Giger and his take on Geidi Prime, the Harkonnen Homeworld planet, and a soundtrack by Pink Floyd to chart the entire ten hour odyssey, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have rattled heads like dice in a Yahtzee cup. This legend of a team would even inspire a complete documentary about their work together, but as deals for funding came few and far between, the project split apart, with different talents spreading to new projects like starship wreckage through space. But a feature film adapting Dune wouldn’t stay buried yet…
Melanie Moyer '22,